Funded PhD Opportunity Promoting the health and athletic performance of young adults with intellectual disability through a physical activity intervention

This opportunity is now closed.

Subject: Sport and Exercise Sciences, Leisure and Tourism


Physical Activity and Sport: Physical inactivity is the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality (DofH, 2011).  The positive physical and psychological benefits of individuals taking part in regular physical activity are well known (Biddle et al., 2015). Regular physical activity (experienced through sport) contributes to the prevention of several primary and secondary chronic diseases as well as reducing the risk of premature death (Warburton et al., 2006) and can improve psychological wellbeing (Biddle et al. 2015).

Intellectual disability: Of concern is that individuals with intellectual disability (ID) have been found to have lower levels of physical activity when compared to the general population (Fitzpatrick et al. in prep.). This group experience health disparities such as higher levels of cardiovascular and cardiorespiratory disease (Taggart et al. 2015).  Given the health advantages of being physically activity has, it is imperative that programmes which encourage physical activity participation be sought and their effects be investigated.

Special Olympics: The Special Olympics has more than 4.7 million participants in 169 countries whose goal is to bring better fitness, nutrition and healthier lifestyles to individuals through their physical activity, competitive sport and healthy lifestyle programmes (Special Olympics, 2017). Although the SO is focussed on participation in physical activity and sport there is a shortage of literature that investigates any positive effect that the programme might have on physical and psychological health. Furthermore, there is limited evidence regarding how SO physiological training (Baran et al. 2013) and psychological preparation (MacDonald et al., 2015) for competitive events can affect athletic performance and outcomes, which is surprising given the latest SO world games attracted over 7000 athletes (Special Olympics, 2015). Given their established links, this PhD programme will design a programme developed and co-produced with SO athletes and coaches that will focus on enhancing health, physical fitness and athletic performance through physiological training and psychological preparation.

AIM: Based upon a social ecological framework, the aim of the PhD project will be to develop, co-produce and test, a multi-component physical activity intervention for young adults with ID. The programme will address vital health benefits of physical activity by focussing on the links between physical activity, cardiovascular fitness and health through the medium of athletic performance. To achieve this aim, the PhD programme will have 4 objectives:

1). To complete a systematic review of existing literature on the physical health and psychological wellbeing outcomes resulting from participation in SO programmes.

2). Explore the methodological and practical challenges of different objective measures of collating activity levels, cardiovascular fitness, performance and wellbeing in young adults with ID

3). To develop and co-produce a multi-component physical activity intervention for young adults with ID and their coaches in SO, targeting health and athletic performance using a social ecological framework.

4). To undertake a feasibility randomised trial of the multi-component physical activity intervention targeting physical activity, cardiovascular fitness, and well-being.

The programme will be delivered by BSc Sport, Physical Activity and Health students deployed to SO clubs in the North West region of Ireland.

Essential Criteria

  • Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC)
  • Sound understanding of subject area as evidenced by a comprehensive research proposal
  • A comprehensive and articulate personal statement

Desirable Criteria

If the University receives a large number of applicants for the project, the following desirable criteria may be applied to shortlist applicants for interview.

  • First Class Honours (1st) Degree
  • Completion of Masters at a level equivalent to commendation or distinction at Ulster
  • Practice-based research experience and/or dissemination
  • Experience using research methods or other approaches relevant to the subject domain
  • Work experience relevant to the proposed project
  • Publications - peer-reviewed
  • Publications record appropriate to career stage
  • Experience of presentation of research findings
  • Use of personal initiative as evidenced by record of work above that normally expected at career stage.


    Vice Chancellors Research Scholarships (VCRS)

    The scholarships will cover tuition fees and a maintenance award of £15,009 per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). Applications are invited from UK, European Union and overseas students.


    The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £15,009 per annum for three years. EU applicants will only be eligible for the fees component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided).  For Non EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK.

Other information

The Doctoral College at Ulster University

Launch of the Doctoral College

Current PhD researchers and an alumnus shared their experiences, career development and the social impact of their work at the launch of the Doctoral College at Ulster University.

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Key Dates

Submission Deadline
Monday 19 February 2018
Interview Date
mid March 2018

Contact Supervisor

Dr Ben Fitzpatrick

Other Supervisors

Apply online

Visit and quote reference number #239985 when applying for this PhD opportunity